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Best of 2023

What’s the most Dacia car in the back catalogue?

Dacia's an established brand nowadays, but its beginnings were a little more... 'kit car'

Published: 27 Dec 2023

What’s the most Dacia car in the back catalogue? Well, the venerable 1300 is the back catalogue – sure, the Renault-backed range has been around for a couple of decades now, but in car industry terms it’s all still very young, just about cracking into the second and third generations of models. Now, the 1300, that car was the very definition of a stalwart.

We know that Dacia didn’t design the original version and that the first iteration of the car was assembled from kits shipped over from France. But the Romanians were actually fairly pragmatic with their outsourcing of the car design. Dacia might have started as a vanity project to show off the country’s industrial might to the world (and it certainly managed that, even if it wasn’t quite the message they were expecting to send), but there was enough realism about the place to understand that the cars would need to be assembled under licence rather than designed and built from scratch. There just wasn’t the expertise or carmaking heritage in the country for all that.

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The package was put out to tender – Dacia wanted to build a solid all-rounder saloon with a 1.0- to 1.3-litre engine that would sell around 50,000 units a year. Renault won the bid, but the car it was offering was still in development – the Renault 12 wouldn’t be on sale until the following year, so in the meantime Dacia could make do with selling a version of the 8, which would be badged the 1100. But still, Dacia didn’t have a factory yet. Its facility near Pitesti was built in an impressive 18 months, and the first 1300 rolled off the line by August 1969.

It certainly wasn’t the sort of car that would win you a close game of Top Trumps – it could wring out an 89mph top speed from the 53bhp, 1.3-litre engine and enjoyed acceleration you could time with a sundial. But what the 1300 lacked in sparkling performance it made up for in plodding reliability and decent for the time fuel economy of 38mpg. This was the machine that kept Romania running.

Renault stopped supplying the knockdown kits in 1978, so Dacia had to start manufacturing the cars itself. The revised version of the car was called the 1310, with distinctive quad headlights up front. An estate version arrived in 1973 and a coupe in 1983. Pickup versions were launched for commercial drivers, and during the Seventies and Eighties party apparatchiks were shuttled about in a limousine adaptation of the car.

It truly was Romania’s flexible friend – if you visited the country as late as the mid-Nineties you’d still see streets rammed with the ubiquitous car, as fancy foreign imports after the fall of the iron curtain were deemed too expensive for most. Taxis, deliveries, family cars – the 1100 was the car that could do it all, and while modern Renault-owned Dacia looks a lot different, this was the car that provided the foundation for today’s budget brand.

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